Monsieur Salut writes: poor Pete Sixsmith. He ruled out a Monday night at London’s least accessible ground a while ago. But he fought through the trenches of ticket acquisition to get me there and will learn only when reading these words that I did not make it. I plead pressure of work, not despair at the Lads but a wasted ticket’s a wasted ticket and there was no time to pass it on. Here’s Sixer’s long-distance assessment …
Pete Horan’s settee, in various guises, has witnessed a number of rousing Sunderland performances over the years. There was the 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge a few years ago, where Jody the German Shepherd, had to witness three “adults” kicking their legs in the air and running around the room, as Onuoha, Gyan and Welbeck took the smirk of Ancelotti’s face.
There was the 0-0 draw at Ashburton Grove last season which kept us up and the win at Selhurst Park, where Gomez and Fletcher wrapped up the points for us. Happy days for the sofa sitters.
Last night was another victory to carve on the sofa framework as a well organised and hardworking Sunderland side triumphed over a Palace outfit that are more style than substance. And it gave us a glimmer of how we may yet avoid the drop into the dark regions of football, also known as The English Football League.
The team formation was similar to that at Goodison but the personnel were different – and better. Two weeks of work at the Academy paid off as the partnership of Coates and Kaboul looked infinitely superior to their performances at Leicester and Bournemouth. The presence of John O’Shea helps. He talks, directs and inspires in equal proportions and the effect on the other two is clear for all to see.
Kaboul was immense and contributed an enormous amount to this so important victory, as was Coates who tackled as well as I have seen any Sunderland central defender. He had straightforward instructions and he followed them and looked a very good stopper – a bit of a Sam Allardyce in fact.
And O’Shea was imperious. He ran the back five and played a huge part in showing the Palace fans and the watching millions exactly why Connor Wickham was sold. The young tyro looked as he had done for much of his time at Sunderland in that he was incapable of having any impact on the game.
So a system involving three central defenders can work and this gave the two wing backs greater freedom to push forward without worrying too much of what went on behind. That certainly suited Patrick van Aanholt who is never fond of defending but gets (and got) forward well. He could have scored in both halves but didn’t and his propensity to give the ball away means that the sum is not always the equivalent of the parts, but he is clearly better as a wing back than a full back.
The midfield also did its job; M’Vila sat deep and handled himself well, taking a yellow card for the team when he brought down the show pony known as Zaha – of whom more later.
Both of his colleagues worked equally hard in their hustling and chasing roles and Cattermole and Larsson can be proud of what they did, although Seb looked a wee bit miffed as he went off.
Under previous managers it is likely that the Swede would have stayed on, but Allardyce made a very astute tactical decision in sending on Watmore and Lens for a tiring Fletcher and Larsson. Both put pressure on the Palace back four and both could have scored. Pace on the bench is not something we have had a lot of in the recent past so the input was welcome.
The game also showed that a front two CAN work if the defence is solid. Fletcher had a decent game while Defoe, jeered by the Palace cognoscenti for his lack of interest in joining them in the past, was a constant threat. It was his persistence that brought the goal, forcing Dann into a desperate error, which was fine and dandy for us and gave our wonderful support the chance of a real beano after the game.
The BBC website said “Sunderland sneak a win at Palace”. If sneaking a win means that you organise your defence, neutralise the opposition’s attacking players and score a goal to win the game, that will do for me. No less ridiculous was the abysmal commentary on Murdoch TV by Alan Parry, who really should be put out to grass. Every 10-yard pass from the overrated Zaha and Bolassie was brilliant, every 10-yard pass from the likes of Cattermole and Larsson was unadventurous.
Palace really are the media golden boys at the moment despite their awful ground and average team. On this performance, Zaha is the ultimate show pony, full of step overs and wiggles, none of which come to anything. I can’t remember him putting in one telling cross or hitting one worthwhile shot.
Bolassie has pace but runs out of ideas while Wickham was, well, just useless. John O’Shea must have been laughing his socks off at having to mark him; he caught him a couple of times as well.
Now we have to do it again on Saturday against a resilient Stoke side who play better football than Palace but who receive 10 per cent of the media adulation that falls on Pardew and his players. This one will be watched from a plastic seat in the East Stand rather than a very comfortable sofa in the Horan Residence – but another 1-0 win would be more than welcome.